My Billy Porter Story


Billy Porter
I met Billy Porter in 2004, before he was a Grammy, Emmy, and 2x Tony Award winner. I only knew him as a singer who was booked on some of the event and award shows I was doing at the time. The first project we worked on was the launch for Lunesta, a sleeping aid developed by Sepracor. I was hired as the band leader/music director/contractor for that gig, and Billy was going to sing the finale. This was fall of 2004. I got a call from Ronnie Lawson, who was based in New York City asking if I would record Billy’s vocal performance to a track he prepared for the show at my studio, because Billy was living in Los Angeles at the time.

We scheduled the session and Billy drove over to my house to record. Not the Billy Porter everyone knows today, but a straight, subdued, contemporary acting/looking Billy, with dreadlocks and a beard. I liked him immediately. He had great energy, and was easy to be around.

Once I got the mic and headphone levels situated we started recording. Billy nailed the first take so hard it gave me chills. I couldn’t believe it. I have recorded some great singers here, but this was another level. It was like having Stevie Wonder himself in the room, No punching in, no fixes, perfection from beginning to end, emotive, powerful, and with great phrasing and tone. I was more than fine with that first pass, but wanted one more take as a safety. He nailed it the second time too! I used the first take, and sat back totally awed by what just happened.

We had plenty of time to chat. It felt good knowing he was comfortable enough to be himself around me, but little did I know. Neither of us knew the path his career would take at that time. I regret not having a picture of us. Selfies were not a thing in 2004.

Most of the big pharma gigs I did were heavily protected. Photos weren’t allowed unless taken by an approved photographer, and rarely released to those working the shows. When Michael Moore showed up at this event with a film crew to record footage for his documentary “Sicko” he was denied entry. The Lunesta launch was huge, and took over the entire Mandalay Bay Hotel and Events Center. Every room, ballroom and venue was booked for it. It was exactly the type of show Moore was highlighting in his documentary.

Side story; My wife and I had been dating for about a month then. I offered to fly her to Vegas to see me play, because she hadn’t yet. She declined my offer and opted to pay her own way, but ended up staying with me in my suite, and we flew back together.

I had a seat reserved for her in the first row, right in front of the band where I was front and center. Hey.. I was the leader, plus it was easier to cue stops and starts if everyone could see me. I had a stellar 7 piece band with me. Btw. the bands I put together for these events were exactly what you would see on a late night TV show. We warmed up the audience, backed performers, and played guests and speakers on and off the stage.

We were already playing our first song to a packed house when I saw someone usher Melonie to her seat. At one point in the first tune the whole crowd stood up and started dancing. When we finished, they gave us a standing ovation! Again, after the first song, and my girlfriend was right in front to see it! Needless to say, it couldn’t have worked out better for me. 🙂 Btw. we celebrate our 20th anniversary next year.

It was a grueling multi-day event, but so incredible. The sound and lighting company were straight off a Madonna tour. The stage lighting and set were other-worldly. Acrobats from Cirque Du Soleil and AntiGravity were flying above our heads while giant screens projected images of us playing. Truly spectacular in every way.

Anyway, back to THE Billy Porter.

The tunes we got to play together, especially the finale, with its confetti canons, dancers, aerial acrobats, and jumbotron images, brought the house down. Billy Porter brings it every time. I have never seen anyone deliver a song like that guy. Such a great experience for everyone who was there.

When I saw him at an awards show wearing his now famous tuxedo/dress I thought, that’s definitely going to get him some attention, and of course it did. The next day he made the front page of the LA Times, and that momentum hasn’t stopped. He is living what looks to be an amazing life, as his authentic self, having fun, and killing it. I couldn’t be happier for him, or prouder for the opportunity to work with such a badass.

Ok, that’s the story. I haven’t seen Billy since he moved back to New York, but am hoping I run into him again so I can congratulate him for his awesome success, and maybe get that picture. Check out Billy‘s music. He truly is one of the best singers on the planet.

The audience was so responsive to the band the producers asked me to record a CD for them as a gift. Money was no object, but time was. This was put together quickly at my studio. I believe there were 8 original songs on it, written by me and other guys on the gig. Here is one of my favorite tracks written by Michael Hakes (Natalie Cole, Brenda Russell, Edgar Winter), who played guitar in my band. Michael passed away the year before, and we recorded this in his memory.